Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – Likely Effects

3. Likely effects

What happens if the proposed cuts are enacted? Let’s look at effects, and at whether we are motivated to challenge those cuts.

Withdraw all the park keepers?

No litter picking, no leaf-blowing, lots of overgrown shrubs/borders, no gritting, no reassuring presence, no lookout for anti-social behaviour. The impact on amenity and safety would be immediate, and very visible.

Would you feel safe going to a littered, unkempt park? Would you enjoy your visit less? A lot less?

Do you feel strongly enough about this that saying so to one of your councillors would convey real strength of feeling? Would be feel distress? Can you convey it? Alternatively, would you ask your councillors to outline the impacts of this cut? Have them talk through the consequences with you?

Reducing Ranger Hubs? Restrict them to land management, risk assessments and repairs for the most part?

I can’t figure quite what this means. But it sounds like Rangers would not be doing the thing they are most needed for: public engagement and volunteer management.

The rangers are an essential 3-way linchpin between nature, people and the council. Taking them away from that work means fewer volunteers, learning less, using parks less, doing less outdoors. The impact of this loss would be to leave parks and open spaces much more vulnerable to anti-social behaviour, and loss of amenity resource for the public.


If nature is a classroom, Rangers are the teachers. Taking them out of the classroom is a dereliction of duty. If greenspaces are a bus, Rangers are the conductor.

I feel quite strongly about this one. How anyone would come up with this as a proposal is problematic, ill-informed, or downright malicious. I am certain there are other ways of making savings, even though I have no access to evidence.

My comment to councillors and officers would be: go back to the drawing board; start over; think this one through properly. Come up with something that’s not so destructive of the public realm, public amenity, perceptions of safety, and so on.

Stop cutting 20% of the grass?

The immediate effect would be an increase in wind blown litter. Parks would look less tidy, and might put people off, or might give others the impression it’s okay to litter.

There are probably better ways of reducing mowing. Instead of reducing the area by 20%, reduce the frequency by 30-50%. Let the grass grow longer – but use a more powerful mower, every 2*N weeks instead of every N weeks.

Remove half of flower beds & shrub borders? Grass them over?

Grassing over borders means more mowing, right? Removing flowers and planting/mowing grass costs money. Or are the flower beds going wild?

Why not just plant zero-maintenance ground cover instead? The immediate impact of replanting flowers with grass is that it’s hardly a cost saving. Why throw good money after bad?

No more baskets & planters?

The immediate impact will be that city centre and neighbourhood high streets look a lot less pleasant. It may affect first impressions more than anything else, but will also mean some public spaces appear more barren, more desolate.

That’s a first turn through the impacts; other impacts can come from local knowledge about each park or open space.

Would the loss of park keepers or rangers mean:

  • More vandalism?
  • More fires?
  • More quad-bikes?
  • More drinking?
  • More cruising?
  • More fly-tipping?

The point here is to connect the dots between loss of a council-run service and loss of amenity, safety, community, health & wellbeing.

 Next Section – 4

Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – Ways of Reacting

2. Ways of reacting

Broader arguments are based on general principles, or on our perceptions. Since I can’t make an informed choice about what to cut, or how to find alternative funding, I’ve got to make my priorities clear in other ways. Maybe I can outline a few broader principles that explain why I’d oppose these cuts, and why I’d support others.

Principles

I can point to a variety of broader principles. In general, I want open access to resources. I like transparency, Freedom of Information, free access to OS data, and so on. I try to operate on a cooperative, collegiate basis, and do what I can to promote community-driven sharing. I value efforts toward ecological sustainability; toward social cohesion, grass-roots democracy; toward whole-impact accounting and accountability. I believe the outdoors is an important resource in social cohesion, in understanding our relationship with the world, learning to deal with wider circumstances, and enjoying where we are.

From that perspective, Rangers are important facilitators of access to the public landscape, and I oppose the potential loss of that access. With those in mind I could probably identify things I’d rather cut first, and alternative ways of generating funds. But I need the council to do the work of identifying resources and impacts.

Perceptions, Feelings

As for perceptions, we are motivated in part by the way things seem to be, even if there’s scant evidence for it. I perceive parks to be safer when there are park keepers and rangers about. I would argue for maintaining the perception of safety. Councillors seem to be swayed by this sort of argument, so it’s worth making.

Likewise, councillors can be swayed by displays of feeling. I’m more lairy of this approach, especially when it degrades into angry jousting. In practical terms, approaches based on feelings can be described as those which

  • make politicians less popular (not a very effective strategy),
  • making them more popular (great when it works, but how often is that?), or
  • make it very clear there will be dramatic knock-on effects of a particular decision.

That’s the one to go for. No councillor wants to see their ward turn into a tip, or a no-go area. And they are rightly uneasy when constituents make their discomfort clear. So I reckon part of this approach is to make an emotive case for preserving integrity of the public realm. With that in mind let’s look at ways of drawing attention to knock-on effects with some emotional impact.

These are off-the-cuff ideas. Don’t take them to heart. They’re just examples of effects the cuts might have on your public parkland. You can come up with your own just as easily.

 Next Section – 3

Birmingham Parks Budget 2017 – What it’s About

This post is something like a train of thought, perhaps a series of thoughts, written out to help clarify it to myself for later use elsewhere. A much-reduced version, perhaps.

This one is not the least bit concise, nor particularly coherent. There are no ready answers, and no firm conclusions. I’d like to make it work extemporaneously, banging out short notes as easily as the thoughts arrive.

Or maybe it’s a train wreck of ideas. Anyway, onward.

1. What it’s about

Birmingham City Council (BCC) have proposed a 20% reduction in the parks and ranger services budget. The cuts are aimed at particular services; targeted cuts, rather than across the board. A letter from Cllr Lisa Trickett spells out the situation.

Last week the Council launched its public budget consultation for 2017/18. It has had to identify the need for further costs savings of circa £51m (in addition to £27m of savings already identified for 17/18). With demographic pressures and the wider impact of the Government’s austerity programme putting statutory services under increasing strain areas for significant reduction have had to be found in the non-statutory service areas from 1 April 2017.

The Parks and Nature Conservation Service is one of those services. It is being asked to make a 20% budget reduction from 17/18 onwards. Proposals in the consultation include:-
* The withdrawal of the Park Keepers.
* Reducing the Ranger Hubs from 6 to 2 with remaining staff focussed on land management, risk assessments and repairs.
* Stopping cutting 20% of grass in parks, public open space and on the highways.
* Removal of 50% of all flower beds and shrubs and returning the areas back to grass.
* Stopping all baskets and planters unless fully funded from other sources.

While this is pretty straightforward, it looks to me like they’ve picked the wrong targets.

Note that the proposals are just that: proposals. Note also that there’s no explanation why it’s these five, not some other bunch. For all I know these are random programmes drawn from the tombola of cuts. It makes me wonder how well considered they were. A bit later on  I’ll think through possible effects. They seem to be chosen without much regard for effects, nor how effective or ineffective they are at maximising savings and quality of outcome. In short this looks like a cursory effort, a selection of cuts made without much thought or insight.

Frankly, any proposed cut ought to come with substantive explanation and evidence of forethought.

Not just an assessment of likely effects; I’d like to know what prompted this selection in relation to any others; what else could take the axe instead. Given that the proposed cuts show no evidence of forethought, I’d like to make some serious alternative proposals.

But I’m in no position to do that. I have no access to the thinking behind the proposed cuts. So I can’t say why they chose these targets instead of others, or vice versa, why other targets weren’t chosen. Likewise, I haven’t got access to data about the rest of BCC operations and budgets. So I can’t identify savings elsewhere. Nor can I propose credible alternative sources of funds. And so on.

These limitations are worth noting because it means my response to any consultation can only be speculative, rather than informed. This is pretty much where any member of the public stands. None of us are in a position to make arguments based on evidence. So we must use other ways of arguing our cause.

 Next Section – 2

The UK Prosperity Index – sub-indices & variables

The UK Prosperity Index

ECONOMIC QUALITY
This sub-index captures not only key economic fundamentals like growth, but also the quality of that growth. This is reflected in measures like poverty, but also people’s feelings about their economic situation. The quality of growth, not only its quantity, is an important reflection of how local economies deliver for their people.

  • Unemployment
  • Long term unemployment
  • Child poverty
  • Feelings about household income
  • Job satisfaction
  • Median annual earnings
  • Economic growth

BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
Measures entrepreneurial and business activity, alongside the key infrastructure required for businesses to form and grow. Wealth creation is fundamental to local prosperity through the jobs and opportunities it provides.

  • Broadband speed
  • Superfast broadband access
  • Business survival
  • Entrepreneurship rate
  • Logistics Index

EDUCATION
Measures human capital, educational attainment, and attendance.

  • Attainment at 16
  • Core subject attainment at 16
  • Truancy
  • Qualifications

HEALTH
Measures mental and physical health, wellbeing, risk factors, and health satisfaction.

  • Life expectancy
  • Life expectancy at 65
  • Anxiety
  • Eudaimonic Wellbeing
  • Cancer Mortality
  • Premature Cardiovascular Mortality
  • Obesity
  • Infant mortality
  • Health satisfaction
  • Smoking

SAFETY & SECURITY
Measures crime rates, road deaths, and feelings of safety.

  • Safe walking
  • Perception of community safety
  • Road deaths
  • Violent crime
  • Theft

SOCIAL CAPITAL
Measures social network strength, social norms, community participation, and trust. Strong communities and social support are important for wellbeing and prosperity. High levels of trust have been linked to higher economic growth. Housing affordability is also measured, as owner-occupancy is a strong predictor of social capital as those who live permanently in an area are more likely to engage in community activity.

  • Recycling rate
  • Volunteering
  • Voter turnout
  • Trust
  • Housing costs
  • Housing affordability
  • Friendship support
  • Family support

NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
Measures impact on the natural environment, quality of the environment, and efforts to protect it.

  • Waste generated
  • Landfill
  • Air pollution
  • Protected land